What is the History Engine?

The History Engine is an educational tool that gives students the opportunity to learn history by doing the work—researching, writing, and publishing—of an historian. The result is an ever-growing collection of historical articles or "episodes" that paint a wide-ranging portrait of life in the United States throughout its history, available in our online database to scholars, teachers, and the general public.

The History Engine project aims to enhance historical education and research for teachers, students, and scholars alike. The Engine allows undergraduate professors to introduce a more collaborative and creative approach to history into their classrooms, while maintaining rigorous academic standards. The core of the HE project is student-written episodes—individual snippets of daily life throughout American history from the broadest national event to the simplest local occurrence. Students construct these episodes from one or more primary sources found in university and local archives, using historical context gleaned from secondary sources to round out their analysis. Students then post their entries in our cumulative database, giving their classmates and fellow participants around the country the opportunity to read and engage with their work.

The HE also gives students a more intimate experience with the process of history. Participants who work with the History Engine project learn the craft of an historian: they examine primary documents, place these documents in a larger historical context using secondary sources, and prepare cogent analysis of their sources for the public eye. These students go into the project fully aware that future classrooms will engage with and critique their work.

Finally, the HE provides a way for professors to take advantage of digital technology in their classrooms while maintaining rigorous academic standards. The cumulative database provides all the easy-access and searchability of other websites, but also subjects its contents to a careful academic screening process on the part of library staff, archivists, professors, and teaching assistants. Because only registered students can contribute, each episode is carefully vetted for content and accuracy. Therefore, the contents of the History Engine database also provide a previously untapped resource for researchers and academics in general. Student episodes draw from a wide variety of primary documents in both small and large collections from around the country, many of which have yet to appear in scholarly manuscripts. Try out the Search feature to see various aspects of American life—from cotton production to music to religious experience—develop across time and space.

Interested in joining the project? Register your school or Contact Us.